Moderated by Tom Sabulis
President Obama has announced that he will use his executive power to act unilaterally on immigration, allowing some five million undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. and work without the threat of deportation. His executive order followed a congressional stalemate over a bipartisan bill that was passed in the Senate but stalled in the House. Today, a local immigration lawyer and a member of the state’s immigration enforcement review board share opposing views of the president’s decision.
Necessary step to reform
By Charles H. Kuck
President Obama’s announcement Thursday certainly shook the ground in Washington, D.C. — and that is a good thing.
We have been living with a nightmarish immigration system for more than 25 years. I know this because I deal with it every single day. My clients deal with it every single day. This broken system not only limits economic growth, but destroys families, punishes businesses, clogs our courts and jails, and drives away talent from America.
The broken legal immigration system actually creates illegal immigration by not adequately providing for the supply to meet the American demand for labor, particularly in agricultural and service jobs. At this point, everyone of sane mind understands that we must do something to fix it, stop illegal immigration, stop employers from hiring undocumented workers, and use a good immigration law to support the American economy and families.
It has been more than 13 years since politicians have had a renewed push to “fix” immigration law, since George W. Bush campaigned on and promised a fix to our current immigration system. A bipartisan group of Senators passed a bill in July 2013 that would strengthen our borders, create more interior enforcement and fix the legal immigration system. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that this bill would create billions of dollars of economic activity. Yet, this common-sense solution to fixing the system has been sitting it the House of Representatives for more than 500 days without a vote.
The Congress and the Constitution give the executive branch the duty to enforce the law, and the authority to use discretion in its enforcement. Congress has also written immigration law very broadly and relies on the executive branch to interpret its frequently vague laws through regulations and policies. The Congress has also given the President only limited funds to carry out this enforcement. Yet, like every prosecutor, the President has to decide which laws to enforce, and how to enforce them with a limited budget.
As every President before him, President Obama simply announced a list of changes his administration is making in immigration regulations and policy (not laws) and enforcement, with the authority provided him by Congress.
These changes include both an incentive for undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and residents to come forward and identify themselves, go through a background check, and pay a fee; in return, they receive a temporary work permit with no permanent immigration status. He also has expanded deferred action for individuals who came to the U.S. under the age of 16, who graduate from high school here. It allows them to obtain a temporary work permit, again with no permanent status. These two changes alone are estimated to affect millions of families in the United States, including several hundred thousand in Georgia. We all know these families; they are our neighbors, our friends, and the people who work with us on a daily basis.
President Obama also announced a greater focus on enforcement (which you can do when you are not deporting people for a broken tail light). This focus puts even more emphasis on the border, heightens interior enforcement, and ensures that all undocumented immigrants with serious criminal convictions are held and deported much faster. To date, illegal immigration is at its lowest level in decades. These steps will reduce it further.
The executive action adds greater flexibility to immigration regulations by allowing investors and entrepreneurs to obtain quicker legal status in the United States. The plan also increases the time period that graduating foreign students can work in the U.S., thereby helping to ease the problem of the high demand for the artificially limited H-1B visa. There are more than twenty different changes to immigration regulations and policy, all within the President’s purview, that he is modifying or extending, in an effort to ease the pain caused by the broken immigration system.
Many do not like that the President acted without Congress, particularly without the House of Representatives. Yet, Congress can very easily resolve their concerns today — or in January, before any parts of the executive action are effective — by passing an immigration bill.
We all know that you lose the right to complain when you do not offer your own solution. Perhaps President Obama’s executive action is what is needed to get Congress to finally act in concert to pass immigration legislation that works for America and its people. We can only hope.
Charles H. Kuck is an immigration attorney in Atlanta, and the former National President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
No respect for our laws
By Phil Kent
Everyone agrees that our broken immigration system needs to be fixed. But President Barack Obama’s “fix” is a blatant unconstitutional overreach of executive power which undermines the rule and law, and serves as a magnet for more illegal immigration.
His executive order “deferring” deportation for approximately five million illegal aliens — which means giving them work permits and Social Security numbers, as well as allowing them driver’s licenses — will encourage more illegal crossings through porous border areas.
Americans have seen it before. After all, experience is a great teacher. Ask U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa. He voted for the 1986 so-called “Immigration Control and Reform Act” based on the promise of a “fix.” But since it granted amnesty to millions of illegals first and promised border security and employer sanctions that never occurred, the senator admits he was “completely fooled.”
Let’s not be fooled again.
Our past president didn’t enforce some immigration laws and our current president not only doesn’t enforce laws, he “waives” parts of laws that he doesn’t like through executive fiat. Obama’s main justification for his order is that “Congress failed to act.” That’s not true. Congress did not fail to act. It chose not to act in granting such a massive amnesty. That’s the way our republic is supposed to work.
Greg Jarrett, a lawyer and Fox News analyst, cites three compelling reasons why the Obama order is illegal:
• It is a distortion of “prosecutorial discretion.” In past decisions the U.S. Supreme Court has cautioned the executive branch that executive orders may not be used to adopt a sweeping policy of non-enforcement of the law. Such discretion has applied only to decisions not to prosecute or expel specific individuals or small groups of people. Furthermore, Obama is bestowing this blanket amnesty not for reasons allowed by law, but for reasons purely political. He wants these low-wage illegals to remain here permanently, hoping that in the future they and their children will be voting predominantly for Democrats.
• It is a usurpation of legislative authority. The Supreme Court has declared that Congress has “plenary power” (meaning full and complete) to regulate immigration. Derived from Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, the doctrine is based on the concept that immigration is a question of national security, relating to a nation’s right to regulate border policy. Yet this is usurped by a unilateral presidential directive.
• It breaches a president’s sworn duty. Article II, Section 3 requires that a president “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Current law specifically requires the deportation of illegal aliens when apprehended. A president cannot ignore or nullify such a law.
Consider what this executive order does, if not overturned or defunded.
• Most of the five million illegal aliens may stay permanently. It may be next to impossible to remove these “temporary” deferrals. It will depend on who the next president is.
• The “legalized” illegals, with their work permits, would compete directly in the job market with Americans — 40 million of whom are unemployed.
• By giving work permits to millions of low-skilled workers, many with limited English skills, wages will be depressed.
Consider, too, the impact of this new order on all 50 states. A 2010 study revealed that the burden of supporting illegal immigration with public benefits costs just Georgia taxpayers $2.4 billion annually (a figure that includes U.S. citizen children of illegal aliens). The taxpayer tab for the nation as a whole, according to Fox News business analyst Stuart Varney, is $113 billion a year — with most going to education and healthcare. With more potential illegal immigrants planning to sneak across our borders to enjoy everything from schooling to healthcare courtesy of Uncle Sap, the added costs are incalculable.
What would real immigration reform mean? First, repealing this damaging executive order either through a successful lawsuit or through the new Congress defunding as much of its expenditures as possible. Real reform also means enhanced border and internal enforcement, fixing the exit-entry visa system so we know who enters and leaves (to assist in thwarting terrorists like the Boston bombers) and streamlining our guest worker programs so that, if no American is displaced, a temporary foreign employee can fill the job.
Finally, think of the message this Obama decree sends to the world. How can we expect foreigners to respect our immigration laws if our own president doesn’t respect them?
Phil Kent is a member of the Georgia Immigration Enforcement Review Board.